South Korea Disenchanted by National Sports Teams

South Korean sports fans have expressed disenchantment with the poor performances of their national baseball and soccer teams in recent months.

Fans had high hopes for the national baseball team at its fourth appearance at the World Baseball Classic (WBC), when the team was runner-up in 2009. The country built its first domed stadium in 2015 in hopes of hosting international events in the future, and it ultimately won the bid to host the first round of 2017 WBC.

On the first day of the tournament, however, Israel won its debut match, defeating South Korea 2-1 in Seoul. The next day, South Korea suffered another loss at the hands of the Netherlands, practically eliminating them from advancing to the next round. South Korea’s advancement to the next round was taken for granted, especially considering that the game was held at home and that South Korea is ranked much more highly than both the Netherlands and Israel by World Baseball Softball Confederation. The team ultimately ended its participation shamefully, eliminated in a pool with one face-saving win against Taiwan and two losses.

Disappointment continued during the 2018 Russian World Cup qualifiers. On March 23, South Korea played China in the final stage of the qualifiers. South Korea had previously had a definitive winning record against China, with only one loss in over 30 matches. With Marcello Lippi as its new coach and at a venue where it has never lost, China defeated Korea 1-0. South Korean fans quickly turned their passion for its national team into demands for head coach Uli Stielike’s resignation. Though the anger continued even after Korea’s victory over Syria on March 28, the Korea Football Association announced it will retain Stielike as the head coach.

South Korea’s true debut in international sporting occurred in 1988 when it became the second Asian country to host the summer olympics. The soccer industry peaked after finishing fourth in the 2002 World Cup, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan. Some of its players went on to play in European leagues. Baseball fans grew exponentially after South Korea won the gold during 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Fans have criticized the national baseball team for showing a lack of will to win during WBC, claiming that there were no tangible incentives for players to perform well. Winning medals in international events exempt players from mandatory military service, but WBC does not qualify as an international event for such benefit.

The disappointment has turned several fans away from stadiums. Revenues dropped significantly during the opening games due to a 16 percent decline in attendance compared to last year. National sports teams have stood as a symbol of unity in Korea since 1988, but the recent performances have put national teams in a precarious positions.